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Footnote Review


RATING:
(2.5 STARS)

Joseph Cedar’s Footnote tells a very personal story in an impersonal and trivializing way. It’s Cedar’s unusual, energetic style that likely pleased the 2011 Cannes Jury enough to give the film a prize (Best Screenplay), but it’s these very same qualities that will leave a mildly unsatisfying taste in your mouth. Footnote contains moments of confident familial drama, but the film’s emotional impact gets muted by a goofy score, artsy cuts, and broad humor.

Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba) and Uriel (Lior Ashkenzai) Shkolnik are both acclaimed, Israel-based professors of the Talmud. Eliezer is Uriel’s stern father, though the latter’s reputation within the academic community has far surpassed the former’s. Eliezer, however, doesn’t believe his son is doing work worthy of the accolades he’s received, and he’s vindicated when he gets a call informing him he’s won the Israel Prize, an acknowledgment that’s eluded him for nearly 20 years. In many ways, he becomes a new person, even going so far as to crack a smile. Imagine Uriel’s predicament, then, when he learns the prize was meant for him and that a vengeful committee member insists on rectifying this monumental, and potentially family-destroying, error.

Footnote questions the value of the truth in a pretty brilliant way. Why, then, does it feel so inauthentic? That’s a question that looms over the proceedings from the very beginning. Uriel is accepting an award, and during his speech, he does nothing but praise his father. The camera, however, lingers on Eliezer, scowling in the front row. It’s a take that establishes the character well, but it’s also indicative of Cedar’s tendency to over-stylize. You’ll see this again with the film’s musical cues, which feel like they belong more in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm than a film like this. Ditto the seemingly superfluous chapter titles, and a few other montage-esque devices used to establish the film’s rich backstory.

The film’s saving grace is a fantastic scene near the film’s midpoint, during which the Israel Prize committee informs Uriel of the mistake they’ve made and their plan to rectify it. For Uriel, his father’s well-being is more important than any more professional gratification, no matter how prestigious this particular award might be. He’s suspicious of the committee’s explanation, and for good reason: It’s chairman and Eliezer are bitter enemies, and Uriel knows that the chairman knows further humiliation will essentially bury Eliezer. It culminates in startling fashion—swinging fists and, later, a declaration: Eliezer can accept the prize if Uriel a.) Writes the committee’s remarks, and b.) Agrees to never submit his own name for this award again. “Fine,” he declares, but Eliezer’s newfound confidence starts to drive his son crazy, making this unspoken agreement hard to live up to.

It’s such rich material but it never comes together the way it should. Everything is moderately successful—the acting, the direction, the writing. And just when you think the film has turned a corner, shaken out the shit, it resorts back to manipulation and cheap laughs. Cedar is young guy with obvious talent, but Footnote is a disappointing misfire.

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